Untraceable A novel

Sergeĭ Lebedev, 1981-

Book - 2021

"In 2018, a former Russian secret agent and his daughter were poisoned with a lethal neurotoxin that left them slumped over on a British park bench in critical condition. The story of who did it, and how these horrendous contaminants were developed, captivates and terrifies in equal measure. It has inspired acclaimed author Sergei Lebedev's latest page-turning novel. At its center is a scheming chemist named Professor Kalitin, obsessed with developing an absolutely deadly, undetectable... and untraceable poison for which there is no antidote. He becomes consumed by guilt over the death of his wife, the first accidental victim of his Faustian pact to create the ultimate venom, and the deaths of hundreds of test subjects. After he defects from the Soviet Union to spend his "retirement" years in the West, two Russian secret agents are dispatched to assassinate him. In this fast-paced, genre-bending novel, Lebedev weaves tension-filled pages with stunningly beautiful prose exploring the historical trajectories of evil. From Nazi labs, Stalinist plots, the Chechen Wars, to present-day Russia, Lebedev probes the ethical responsibilities of scientists supplying modern tyrants and autocrats with ever newer instruments of retribution, destruction and control"--Provided by publisher.

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Subjects
Genres
Suspense fiction
Spy fiction
Thrillers (Fiction)
Published
New York : New Vessel Press [2021]
Language
English
Russian
Item Description
First published in Russian in 2020 as Debutant.
Physical Description
247 pages ; 22 cm
ISBN
9781939931900
1939931908
Main Author
Sergeĭ Lebedev, 1981- (author)
Other Authors
Antonina W. Bouis (translator)
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Lebedev's fourth novel to be published in English (following Oblivion, The Year of the Comet, and The Goose Fritz) affirms his emergence as one of Russia's leading writers. In some nebulous period following the demise of the Soviet Union, a defector collapses suddenly in a bustling restaurant. Everyone suspects poisoning, but Kalitin, a scientist now living in seclusion somewhere in the West, knows instantly that the cause is Neophyte, a virulent chemical weapon he developed that kills anyone in its proximity and evaporates without detection. In the post-Cold War era, Kalitin, who still has a smuggled stash of his life's work in his possession, realizes that Russian authorities have begun to use Neophyte to disappear its enemies and defectors. What he doesn't know is that an ex-military commando named Shershnev has already been dispatched to find Kalitin, retrieve the stolen Neophyte, and use it on its creator. The novel alternates between the two men, both reflecting on their past histories as agents of death, as they move inexorably toward an underwhelming confrontation. VERDICT Though readers will be disappointed if they expect a fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase, Lebedev's rich and ruminative writing raises important questions about the ethics and personal costs of perpetrating anonymous mass murder.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

The Russian government's poisoning of political enemies provides the backdrop for this timely thriller from Russian author Lebedev (The Year of the Comet). Professor Kalitin, a chemist who's working on developing an untraceable poison he calls Neophyte, had been a loyal subject of the Communist regime in its waning days. When the Soviet Union collapses, he decides to defect to the West. After another defector is killed using Neophyte, two Russian generals decide the chemist must be eliminated. Lieutenant Colonel Shershnev is assigned to direct an operation to assassinate Kalitin. Lebedev uses flashbacks to build complicated characters and intensify the plot, but these sometimes slow and confuse. Assured prose is a plus ("He wept with tears postponed for two decades, no longer salty; belated, warm, ugly, desired"), but the weak ending will disappoint genre readers, as will the lack of action and heroic characters. Those who prefer a more literary approach will enjoy the change of pace. Agent: Galina Dursthoff, Galina Dursthoff Literary (Germany). (Feb.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"In 2018, a former Russian secret agent and his daughter were poisoned with a lethal neurotoxin that left them slumped over on a British park bench in critical condition. The story of who did it, and how these horrendous contaminants were developed, captivates and terrifies in equal measure. It has inspired acclaimed author Sergei Lebedev's latest page-turning novel. At its center is a scheming chemist named Professor Kalitin, obsessed with developing an absolutely deadly, undetectable and untraceable poison for which there is no antidote. He becomes consumed by guilt over the death of his wife, the first accidental victim of his Faustian pact to create the ultimate venom, and the deaths of hundreds of test subjects. After he defects from the Soviet Union to spend his "retirement" years in the West, two Russian secret agents are dispatched to assassinate him. In this fast-paced, genre-bending novel, Lebedev weaves tension-filled pages with stunningly beautiful prose exploring the historical trajectories of evil. From Nazi labs, Stalinist plots, the Chechen Wars, to present-day Russia, Lebedev probes the ethical responsibilities of scientists supplying modern tyrants and autocrats with ever newer instruments of retribution, destruction and control"--Provided by publisher.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A thriller dipped in poison ... Shares some of le Carré’s fascination with secret worlds and the nature of evil."
The New York Times

The terrifying, lengthening list of Russia’s use of lethal poisons against its critics has inspired acclaimed author Sergei Lebedev’s latest novel. With uncanny timing, he examines how and why Russia and the Soviet Union have developed horrendous neurotoxins. At its center is a ruthless chemist named Professor Kalitin, obsessed with developing an absolutely deadly, undetectable and untraceable poison for which there is no antidote. But Kalitin becomes consumed by guilt over countless deaths from his Faustian pact to create the ultimate venom. When the Soviet Union collapses, the chemist defects and is given a new identity in Western Europe. After another Russian is murdered with Kalitin's poison, his cover is blown and he's drawn into an investigation of the death by Western agents. Two special forces killers are sent to silence him—using his own undetectable poison. In this fast-paced, genre-bending tale, Lebedev weaves suspenseful pages of stunningly beautiful prose exploring the historical trajectories of evil. From Nazi labs, Stalinist plots and the Chechen Wars, to present-day Russia, Lebedev probes the ethical responsibilities of scientists supplying modern tyrants and autocrats with ever newer instruments of retribution, destruction and control.